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© Douglas Hykle
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Former Synagogue of Tluste

Former Synagogue of Tluste, ca. 1931   A rare photograph, taken in 1931, shows the synagogue of Tluste in its former glory. The greyish-white stone building, with a light coloured roof, is seen from across the pond. Across the road from the synagogue, to the north, stood a small prayer house and/or ‘house of study’ – perhaps more than one building. Pawlyk (pers. comm.) recalls, as a young boy in the mid-1930s, this being a wooden structure.

An Austrian-drawn map of Tluste dating from 1858 confirms the synagogue's presence. It was located near the junction of the main north-south road to Chortkiv and the road leading eastward to Lisivtsi. It was situated on the edge of what was then a mostly unoccupied green area, not far from the northwestern extremity of the large reservoir. Nearby, on the main road, was a long row of shops, many of which would probably have been owned by the town’s Jewish population. Although not marked explicitly as a synagogue, the same building also appears on an map of Tluste from 1899.   Map of Tluste - 1858, showing central business area

If the earlier map has been drawn to scale – and from other comparisons this appears to be the case – the synagogue would have been approximately as large as the former fort (today, a recreation hall) located further to the west. The latter structure is 12 m wide by 24 m long.

The synagogue, the Greek Catholic church (more or less opposite, on the other side of the main road) and the Roman Catholic church (further down the road, in the direction of Zalishchyky) formed a triangle. The distance between them was only about 100-150 meters.

Rare image of Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic churches, together with Jewish synagogue - ca. 1939  

A grainy panoramic photo, taken from a similar vantage point in 1939, captures the Roman Catholic church to the left, the dome of the Greek-Catholic cathedral in the middle (barely visible), and the monolithic structure to the right. In former times, when all of these buildings were in their prime, it must have been an impressive sight to see all of the religious faiths in Tluste represented in such a small area.

On file at the Tovste museum is a handwritten note, of unknown origin, describing the interior of the synagogue in some detail. Presumably, it is a first hand recollection of someone in the congregation:

“The great Synagogue of Tolstoje was built in the beginning of the 20th century. It was on the way to Lisowitz, near the praying house (clois) of Hasidei czortkow and opposite the Beis-Midrasz (House of Study). There was a praying room too, of Hasidei Wiznic.

The synagogue was built of stone. Steps and an entrance gate led to the hall. A small corridor on the right led to a small praying room of artisans; there they were praying in the mornings. In the afternoon there was a “Heder”, where children were learning.

On the left was the entrance to a large hall, in the middle of which was a pulpit, decorated with lamps, and on the eastern side was the Holy Ark, covered with embroidered curtain. Wide steps led to the second floor, where women were praying.

The walls of the Synagogue were decorated with paintings. The scenes were from the Bible, emblems of the tribes of Israel, on light blue background. Around were windows with painted vitrages (stain-glass).”

The stated origins of the synagogue raise an interesting discrepancy. It is written that at the turn of the twentieth century, it was decided to convert or reconstruct the remains of what had bee, one of Tluste’s four forts for use as the town’s principal synagogue. However, the fact that the 1858 and 1899 maps already show the presence of a large synagogue appears to be at odds with that assertion. Perhaps the old fort was already in use as a synagogue in 1858, but was subsequently renovated around the turn of the century?

Sadly, the Nazis destroyed the synagogue around 1942, some time during their occupation of Tluste. An aerial photograph taken during a German reconnaissance flight in May 1944 shows what appear to be the remains of a wall and one corner of the building. Today, there are no traces left of it, nor of the Jewish community that once thrived in Tluste.   Aerial photo from May 1944 showing destruction of Tovste town centre

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